The coronavirus pandemic originated in Wuhan, China, in late 2019 and began spreading around the United States in early 2020. The virus has not only infected over 81 million people around the world, but has upended society with the implementation of strict guidelines, such as masking and social distancing.
On Jan. 20, the first case of coronavirus in the United States was confirmed in the state of Washington. Ten days later, the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency.
By Feb. 29, the first coronavirus death in America was confirmed. Less than a month later, the virus could be found in all 50 states.
One death was 21-year-old Penn State student Juan Garcia, who died of respiratory failure in July after returning home to Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Turkmenistan, North Korea and various Pacific island nations remain the only countries to not internationally report any cases to date.
Conor Miller said he remembers the initial wave of confusion and surprise when the coronavirus began rapidly spreading in March.
“I thought it was just going to blow over. I didn’t think it was actually going to turn into what it turned into,” Miller (freshman-cybersecurity) said. “When they canceled our senior year [of high school] last year, that’s when it really set in.”
By late March, Penn State and many other universities suspended in-person classes for the rest of the spring semester, opting instead for virtual learning.
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Penn State spokesperson Lisa Powers said the university has continually collaborated with government and health professionals when making its decisions about safety.
“From the outset, the health and safety of our University community, as well as the broader communities across the state in which Penn State plays a key role, were identified as priorities in any decisions made,” Powers said via email.
By the beginning of summer, all but a few states were enduring variations of stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns. Mask mandates also quickly emerged and are still largely present across the country.
These lockdowns led to an enormous downturn in American economic growth, especially in the realm of small businesses. According to a Yelp Local Economic Impact report published in September, more than 100,000 U.S. small businesses were forced to permanently close during the pandemic.
According to Pew Research Center, unemployment rates reached as high as 14.4% in April, as workers were laid off or furloughed by businesses forced into shutdowns. Unemployment rates decreased to 6.9% by October.
The 2020 financial crisis was the fastest stock market drop in history, but the Dow Jones Industrial Average began to rise again after lockdowns generally began to ease in May.
Just like economics, voting in the 2020 presidential election was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Michael Berkman, a professor of political science and director of the McCourtney Institute of Democracy at Penn State, said the coronavirus pandemic became “the defining issue” of the 2020 election.
“When you have an incumbent, you’re going to have a referendum on the incumbent’s performance,” Berkman said. “In this case it was about the economy, but the economy because of COVID and how COVID was dealt with.”
A record number of voters opted for mail-in ballots in 2020, fearing long lines and potential coronavirus infection. These ballots played a key role in the election of Democratic candidate Joe Biden as the 46th president-elect over Republican incumbent President Donald Trump.
Berkman believes mail-in ballots will remain a common method of voting, but fears some suspicions surrounding their validity could affect future elections.
“I have this sneaking feeling that every election now, we’re going to hear about things like [voter fraud] more and more,” Berkman said. “That, to me, makes the Electoral College more problematic than it ever was, and is going to make elections, which are the core of democracy, untrusted by many people moving forward. That’s not a good thing.”
While political campaigns continued throughout the summer, Penn State and other university administrators had to make decisions about the return to school for the fall semester.
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Penn State announced on June 14 it planned to host in-person classes in the fall semester.
Penn State President Eric Barron said in a press release the university “experience may look somewhat different this fall, but I am very much looking forward to seeing our campuses busy with students, faculty and staff once again.”
Noah Speitel, who tested positive for the coronavirus in July, said it was difficult to readjust and find “a new norm” during his last year at Penn State.
“It’s definitely been difficult, but we all do the best that we can to get through it,” Spietel (senior-political science and education and public policy) said.
One of the hallmarks of the fall semester has been Zoom classes, which have elicited a multitude of reactions from students.
Matt Brown said he was thankful to be able to live on campus and experience college for his first semester, but had mixed feelings about online courses.
“It’s nice not having to worry about going places and just rolling out of bed and going to class, but at the same time I feel like I’m missing out on so much,” Brown (freshman-communications) said.
As 2020 comes to a close, the United States continues to see a steady rise in cases of the coronavirus. But, for many, the future is starting to look brighter as vaccines begin to be administered.
The United States and other nations gave emergency approval for the administering of two coronavirus vaccines, one produced by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE and another by Moderna. Another vaccine, produced by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, is also expected to be approved in the United Kingdom soon.
Some of the first vaccinations were performed in the United Kingdom earlier this month. The first Americans received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 14 in New York.
While the spring semester was originally set to resume in-person learning Jan. 19 — already a week later than normal — Barron announced via email on Dec. 18 that it would begin remotely and resume in-person on Feb. 15.
Before returning to campus, Penn State students must provide a negative coronavirus test. Tests will be provided to students at no charge.